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Leaping Puma

Throw Money from the Plane, or: Bringing a Pet East o' the Border

Got too much money? Try bringing your pet overseas. Ask me how I did it. Well, actually, a friend and I. And an army of vets, gubmint officials, and taxi drivers, all now a bit richer.

To bring a cat to Germany from the U.S., first, you must obtain... a SHRUBBERY a microchip. This will run you $50. Oh yes, and if you would like to know what the REST of the rules are, that will be an additional $7, please. Plus shipping, handling, and applicable taxes.

Thus beginneth the Pet Passport paper-trail.

My friend in the U.S. took Cricket to get the shrubbery microchip installed at the same time she had her required immunisations (at least 30 days before travel): $129. On Delta Airlines, travelling with a pet (in a regulation carry-on1 container, $39.99) is an additional $150 -- the cheap option. Good thing little Cricket in her regulation carry-on container fit under the seat, because if she'd been a baby elephant, it would have meant saving her a special place in Cargo ($575), in a hardshell container ($24.99 - $149.99). Woo, gold-plated!

The Pet Passport rules said I needed a final certification of health for Cricket within 10 days of flying back, meaning another vet visit ($129) in a taxi ($12). There, the vet advised me cheerfully that I'd also have to make a special trip to the USDA at the airport to get the Final Stamp of Approval ($34, no cash, credit cards or money orders only. Office closes at 3pm M-F). Next door at the pet shop I bought the regulation container, a small packet of cat food, and some Children's Benadryl in case of on-board wowling ($69 total).

Walked the three miles back from the vet's with both cat carriers, credit card steaming like an overheated Ford Pinto.

Fast-forward to flight day. Classic scene. Deep within cats' brains lurks some Darwinian agitation device that signals human intent to stuff them in a box and take them somewhere. After we all tag-teamed her and zipped up all the scrabbling paws, I shoved off early in a cab ($55+tip) to a corrugated, sprawling megatrailer of bureaucracy "across from" (uh...) JFK Intergalactic Airport. Even armed with the actual address, some initial bewilderment before I found a tiny, almost pleasant office that belonged in Texas rather than New York State. Mo' money handed over, stampity-stamp on the papers. We were on our way again, with all the paper artillery we required in a slim manila combat envelope.

All done? Yee-haw? Trumpets o' victory? Welp...

The real fun started curbside at International Departures. Remember, my definition of 'travelling light' means I can still carry it all without the assistance of a young gorilla, even if I'm too sore to move the next day. And I wasn't travelling light. To wit, I had two suitcases packed to the gills, just under 50 lbs apiece to scrape by airline regulations, a backpack, my really really good road bike which I have missed terribly here, and of course, the meowing regulation carry-on container.

The sky caps wouldn't help me because pets had to be checked in inside. I ran and got a cart, loaded it, and discovered it didn't fit through the door.

Want help in New York City? Get in the way. The Disgruntled Airline Passenger community helped me in diagonally, Cricket yelling the whole time. Getting in diagonally is apparently not as fun as it sounds if you are a cat in a box on top of a cart with a slightly rickety wheel.

I steered the thing into line, fending off curious kids poking the carrier mesh. Surrendered the much-abused credit card again. Lumbered through security: "You're going to have to take the cat out." O, say the words I love to hear, because stuffing a squirming feline into a tiny container is something I wanna do more than once a day. (Wasn't the last time, either.)

Turned out I wasn't smuggling weapons into Germany, so they let me through. Found the quietest corner of the gate waiting area and actually got Cricket to relax for the remaining three hours before the flight.

Which became four as we waited, as per a sheepish PA announcement.

And another two hours once they let us onboard and strapped us into our seats, behind 37 other airplanes of equal or greater impatience.

Considering the circumstances, Cricket had been remarkably good, though every time I dropped off to sleep, meow happened. I'd stick my hand in the container and pet her til she quieted. This worked until about 3 am New York time. Perfectly understandable. 13.5 hours' solitary confinement in a glorified suitcase is kind of a meowing mandate. By then, Cricket had escalated to wowling with a mournful, pathetic timbre that made Russian dirges sound like Kool & the Gang's "Celebration."

Not reeeaaaallly working for anyone aesthetically but Cricket.

Took the carrier to the bathroom. WOWL. Let the cat out of the bag. Cuddled her. WOWL. OK kitty, maybe whatchoo need is some of that Children's Benadryl. WOWL. Flashback to vet: "Don't use it unless she's really losing it." It wasn't quite Defcon 5, but hey, you know, everyone could use a break, right? Who doesn't love Valium, even if it's secretly Children's Benadryl (Bubblegum Flavoured)?

Cats don't.

Centuries ago, they left a few commandments off the tablets. One of them being: "Thou shalt not drug thy cat. What in Fornication art thou thinking?"

(Well, Officer,) I'd blown through the Convenient Optimism intelligence barrier a few thousand miles below, so I was actually thinking I'd just unscrew the cap off Kitty's Little Helper, pour a sneaky, diluted amount into the bowl I'd thoughtfully slipped into the carrier, and supply sweet rest to all creatures involved. She had to be thirsty, right? No water now, going on 14 hours?

Cosmonautic Truth: No cat is ever thirsty enough to slurp down anything Bubblegum Flavour.

So, I dipped her paws in it, hoping she'd lick it off. Ah, Convenient Optimism, how many wars are you responsible for?

Three inexplicable seconds later, half of Cricket was coated with a thin layer of diluted Children's Benadryl, and all of Cricket hunkered under the toilet bowl, squinting. Your move?

My name was already mud, as was the bathroom floor, so I grabbed her and poured as much of a dose as I could down her throat.

Only really, not so much down her throat as over the walls.

The next thing I knew, Cricket was horking up a rosy foam beard, the bathroom looked like the Pink Panther had exploded, and I was experiencing technical difficulties wrenching my feet off the floor.

Many paper towels gave their lives that night.

Morning. Whatever.

After a hasty mop-up, I jammed non-sedated Cricket back into the carrier, and came out as innocuously as one can in front of a bathroom line a few exhausted passengers deep. Sorry bout the floor, folks. That munching sound as you step is nothing to worry about, really.

Carrier under the seat again.


All I can say is, thank Odd for plane-generated white noise. She'd just have to WOWL til Germany, unBenadryled and unrepentant. Would she hate me forever when I finally got home and let her out?

Several centuries passed. We emerged from our time capsule into a sunny Berlin morning. Germany was still Germany. I hope I didn't ask anyone if it was 2009, but I can't be sure. Cricket's batteries had run down a bit, so at least WOWL was set to Intermittent. My bike materialised from the guts of the airport. Over the PA, I heard my name called. Is it about the airplane bathroom? I wondered dully.

Nope, one of my bags had been sent to Prague. I was delighted. Someone else would have to bring it to me!

I collected the rest of my stuff, and carted it through Customs. They were curious about the bike. Was it new? Nope, four years old. How many miles had I come? "From New York to Berlin," I told them. Eyebrows vaulted. On the bike? Dreamlike images of pedaling under the Atlantic. We all cracked up. "Sorry! About 20,000 kilometers. On land." Nod through.

We'd made it!

Only when I collapsed into the minivan taxi did I realise:


Cue comic Wah-Wah trumpets.

Please, nobody do the math... because you know if I hadn't had the papers...


We reached my apartment 18 hours after she'd entered the carrier. Once out, Cricket settled right in, the bubblegum beard forgiven and forgotten. Several noisy cat baths took care of the remaining Benadryl, at no cost to her alertness. Go figure.

Been pretty peaceful since then. Sluggish, even. Early Thursday morning, a grumpy man in a reflective vest brought the 50-pound Bague of Prague all the way to my top-floor apartment.

No plans to travel for a bit. Not with Cricket, anyway.

Suppose sometime she'll have to learn German, but for now she just WOWLs louder in English and expects the other cats in the building to understand.

1Not "carrion," of course, which belongs in Cargo. [back]


a shrubbery would have provided shade and a nice garden scent, for sure, as well as being a lot cheaper :D